I got hooked on The Walking Dead a couple of years ago, binge watched the first three seasons, and now I find that each new episode is the highlight of my TV week. For those of you who are not aficionados, TWD is the story of a small group of characters who are attempting to survive in a world infested by mindless flesh-eating zombies. The core group, led by former sheriff Rick Grimes, are constantly searching for a safe haven in a world gone mad. Along the way they encounter other groups who have attempting to build or defend their own fortified communities. In every case, something goes drastically wrong. Grimes and his crew are forced to defend themselves not only from the ever-present zombies, but from the people they encounter. There is a lot of killing. Grimes’s group eventually prevails, leaving behind death and destruction, and moves on to continue their search for sanctuary.
We root for Rick, Darryl, Glen, Maggie, Carl, Carol, and the others. They are good people, their decisions are driven by their need to survive as a group, and they kill only those who are trying to kill them. They run into a lot of those types of people: Merle, the Governor, Gareth—the list is long. In every encounter, ultimately, they leave behind bodies and broken walls.
I started out seeing TWD as a heroic story of redemption, hope, and triumph. I still do, to some extent, but now, as we near the end of season five, my perception is different.
Everywhere Rick & Company go, they encounter people who have created relatively safe, stable environments for themselves—bits of grit that might one day become pearls. Dr. Jenner at the CDC, who might have continued on for years. Hershel and his family on their farm. The Governor’s fortified town of Woodbury. Gareth and the people of Terminus. Dawn and her people at the Atlanta hospital.
All of these nascent societies are terribly flawed. Dr. Jenner is incapable of ever finding a cure. Hershel is a deluded optimist who believes the dead are still human. The Governor is a homicidal megalomaniac. Gareth has built a society of predatory cannibals. Dawn has created a micro police state.
In every case, the arrival of Rick & Company triggers disaster, destroying any possibility that any of these groups might one day grow into a larger, more stable, more productive society.
History shows us that many (if not all) great societies began as tiny, monomaniacal, xenophobic, chauvinistic, ruthless groups. Consider the ancient, bloody sect that after three or four millennia became the great state of Israel. Consider the beer hall origins of modern Germany, or the slave-based economy that eventually became the United States of America.
For the first couple seasons of TWD, I saw Rick & Company as civilized, as moral, as a force for good. But while I remain emotionally with Camp Rick, I now see them as an amoral group intent on promoting their own monomaniacal, xenophobic, chauvinistic, ruthless vision at any cost. The irony here is that they don’t know it, whereas the people they have destroyed—Dr. Jenner, the Governor, Gareth, Dawn, Merle, Shane, and so on—died knowing who and what they were.
In the current season, Rick & Company have joined yet another group. They are safe inside Alexandria, a well-fortified community led by Deanna, a former Ohio congresswoman. Deanna says she has invited the group to join them because of their experience on the outside. Rick is named constable, and the rest of his group take up various jobs within the community.
So far, Alexandria appears to be a secure place populated by “normal” people. We shall see. But whatever transpires, I am certain that Deanna will regret inviting Rick & Company into her world.